Assessing where we are

It was depressing this week reading Jeremy Dear’s statements about the “negotiations” with the BBC. It’s all down to improving CAB2011, he said in various different ways. What a tragedy that it has come to this. Despite a 70% mandate to take industrial action, the NUJ leadership prefers to put its faith in negotiations with an employer that has quite clearly ruled out further movement.

The mandate for strike action was about far more than this – it was about trying to defend the existing pension scheme. The only way to ring further concessions out of the BBC is strike action. What’s also so frustrating is that Mark Thompson clearly is worried about the prospect of continued industrial action. Last week he had the senior managers in the newsroom telling him that they couldn’t keep even the skeleton service they managed during the first strikes if industrial action persisted. Yet it’s now very hard to imagine the NUJ membership will be persuaded to go on strike – not when their own leader has retreated so far.

Meanwhile, all the energy to keep fighting is coming from a small band of dedicated activists. This week David Gallagher sent me the results of some freedom of information requests to the BBC. They show that the BBC hasn’t even considered alternatives that would have helped makee the existing pension scheme viable.

– The BBC has “no information” on what the effect of increasing the retirement age would be. In other words, it’s done no work on this key option for helping reduce the pension fund deficit.

– Ditto the effect of altering the measure of inflation used to uprate benefits from RPI to CPI.

– Lucy Adams has conceded in an email that the BBC has done no detailed modeling about the impact of a cap on pensions (for example capping pensions at a max £50K).

Any of these would have reduced the pension scheme deficit, and at considerably less cost to members than any of the options the BBC is about to enforce.

Then there’s the dishonesty. In 2008 the BBC signed a statement of funding principles for the pension scheme. It said the following:

“Any funding shortfall (ie deficit) identified by an actuarial valuation will be eliminated as quickly as the BBC can reasonably afford by payment of additional contributions over an agreed recovery period…”

When asked to comment on BBC management’s behaviour in breaking this commitment, pension scheme actuary Alison Blay said:

“I think the context of that is that in 2007 there wasn’t a deficit and so it was a fairly theoretical position”

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The BBC’s promises only count if they don’t have to be redeemed. Once the “theoretical position” becomes “reality”, the BBC simply says it never really meant it in the first place. If I behaved like that in my professional life I’d be fired. But not the morally bankrupt leaders of this organisation.

If the union wanted to, this  could form the basis for a stirring campaign against the BBC. Will they take up the opportunity?

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